Soul Searching in Sarajevo

or The European Jerusalem

(Part Two of a Two Part Series on our time in Bosnia-Herzegovina)

Being in Bosnia-Herzegovina was our first time in a country where the predominant religion was Muslim.  What impressed us with our time there was that so many Mosques’ dotted a small area.  What also made an impression were the multiple calls to prayer that one can hear around the city via loudspeaker.  Since religion has always played a part in my life I have to report that walking around the city of Sarajevo and hearing the call to prayer was in many ways relaxing and calming for me.  No, I had no idea what they were saying but the melodic sound of their voices was soothing nonetheless.

Mike wanted to see Sarajevo because almost 30 years ago this city hosted a winter Olympics and Mike loves winter sports of all kinds.  Mike was a ski instructor back in Washington State and he is an avid outdoorsman and hiker so to get to travel to a location that had hosted an Olympics was special for him.

A reminder that Sarajevo was once a city of peace and goodwill

A reminder that Sarajevo was once a city of peace and goodwill. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Taking a bus from Mostar to Sarajevo takes a little more than two hours.   We again reserved a hotel in the center of old Sarajevo and it was the ideal location to begin our exploration.  We dropped off our backpacks and set out to explore the city with maps in hand.  Old Town Sarajevo is filled with shops, cafes, coffee houses, bakeries, souvenir shops, history and mosques.  We have at least two spires in every photo that we took.

Before heading to dinner we came upon a tourism office.  Sarajevo has so much history and to see all the sites we knew we had to hire someone to take us to places we would not be able to get to without a car.  Our first day trip was to the town of Srebrenica.  Our second was a day tour of the city of Sarajevo itself.  Our guide for both days was Dzenana (pronounced jenana), a young and enthusiastic 20 something who like Selmir in Mostar, loves her country.

Our wonderful guide Djenana

Our wonderful guide Djenana. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

A city tour of Sarajevo is unlike any other tour I have taken in any city I have visited.  A tour of this city is filled with references to the war and the destruction that happened during that war.  We were shown ‘sniper alley’ and the famous Romeo and Juliet bridge were two young people who were running across the bridge to get away from the fighting were murdered by a sniper; we were shown the National Library that was bombed and which burned for five days destroying 2.5 million documents that were housed here and which had detailed information from the history of the country in it; we learned that a ‘Sarajevo rose’ was the marks left on the ground by the artillery that rained on the city, sometimes as many as 300 of them in a single day; we learned that 300,000 people were trapped inside the city limits during the war many without food, water, heat, or electricity; we were given stats like 11,000 people died in the city of Sarajevo during the war, 1600 of them children; that 1 million refugees left before and during the war and most never returned; that 80 % of the city was destroyed; that Sarajevo was attacked for no other reason than it was an easy target, the aggressors never entered the city they simply staked out the high ground and tossed bombs for three years, their objective to topple the government and break the will of the people, which they never did. We learned that the Olympic Village, where once athletes from around the world stayed and competed in harmony was burned and bombed and it no longer resembles a place of peace and goodwill.  We were taken on a ‘tunnel tour’ where we were able to enter the tunnel that was used to bring in food and water and electricity to those trapped inside Sarajevo during the war.  This 800 meter tunnel made the difference in the lives of those people and helped to ensure they had a chance to survive the war.  Without that tunnel there would have been no hope.  We learned about the hatred and lingering resentment between the people of Bosnia and those who live in the region known as the Republika of Srpska who even today want to become a part of Serbia further splitting away from Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Some people never learn.

The Tunnel Tour begins in a bomb shelter. Here Djenana gave us a detailed accounting of the war and what it might have been like to live through it

The Tunnel Tour begins in a bomb shelter. Here Djenana gave us a detailed accounting of the war and what it might have been like to live through it. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Our guide Dzenana showed us a map of her country and she said, “My country is shaped like a heart, why do they want to tear it apart?”  She makes an emotional point.  The feeling here however is that someday her country will be further split in two.  Until then this little country, shaped like a heart, has a lot of healing to do.  I fear it will take generations before the healing takes hold and the bombed out buildings are replaced or rebuilt.  No city which wears its war so loudly on its streets; were so many bombed and burned out buildings still dot the landscape can heal.  There are too many reminders for the survivors to put the war behind them.

I expected my time in Medjugorje to be emotional.  What I did not expect was the sadness I felt in Mostar or the heavy burden of hatred I felt in visiting Srebrenica or the lingering evidence of war still clinging to the streets of Sarajevo.  On the bus from Sarajevo back to Croatia Mike and I had time to reflect on all that we had experienced in Bosnia-Herzegovina and ultimately we felt that living there was not something we could do.  It would be too hard on us to live in a place were so much sadness still lingers.  We only live for 6 months in a new country and that would not be enough time to help heal some of the wounds that have taken years to build, and will take more time than we can give to close that pain.  We wish the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina peace.  Long and ever lasting peace.

(For more information and pictures of our time in Sarajevo follow this link)

Florence Lince


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